From old to new, modern to partially collapsed, and bright colors to gray stones, visitors can expect anything but uniformity when it comes to the architecture in Lisbon. Beautiful and interesting, must-see buildings are scattered in every corner of the city, so architect-lovers won’t be bored when visiting, but this list highlights some of the most remarkable and dramatic buildings among them all.
Castelo de São Jorge
The Castelo de São Jorge is one of the most emblematic landmarks in Lisbon, along with the sunshine yellow Praça do Comércio. Built in the 11th century, the castle was once a fortification used by the Moors when they ruled the Iberian Peninsula. It was converted into a palace after the land was reconquered by the Portuguese monarchy in the 13th century, and served as the home and entertainment center for the Portuguese royalty during the Age of Discoveries. Towards the end of the 16th century, the castle became a military fort once again, and today it is one of the city’s most loved ruins, where visitors can walk through a courtyard, enjoy views of the 25 de Abril Bridge and Tagus River, and experience a museum filled with ancient treasures like dishes, pots, currency, tiles, and more.
Praça do Comércio
The plaza square attracts tourists and photographers as the largest square in the city and one close to the river. The bright yellow buildings that surround the square also make this landmark unique. It also goes by the name Terreiro do Paço and is called “Commerce Square” in English. The area once held the royal palace after the Portuguese Royalty left the Castelo de São Jorge, but the palace was destroyed in the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and the square was built in its wake. Today, the buildings that circle the square hold a few government buildings, including the tourism office, one of the hottest Lisbon night clubs, a number of restaurants, and a sophisticated winery, in addition to much more.
Convento do Carmo
In Lisbon, a trend of walking through ruined buildings left by Lisbon’s most devastating earthquake will soon be noticed. The Convento do Carmo is yet another, and one of the most dramatic examples to boot. Open from Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the fall and spring and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer, the convent walls, Gothic arches, and attached museum attract many tourists looking for breathtaking architecture and emotional history. Built in the late 14th century, the convent was once one of the most lavish, affluent, and influential religious buildings in Lisbon. Located in Chiado, the street leading to the Convento do Carmo begins at the Rua Garret (a street filled with cafés, trendy boutiques, and restaurants), and the outside of the Convent can be enjoyed from the top of the Santa Justa Lift too.
Estação do Rossio
Designed by architect José Luís Monteiro in the late 19th century, the train station reflects typical Portuguese Neo-Manueline architecture. The Estação do Rossio may not receive as many travelers as the Oriente Station, but it does receive many tourists who wish to gaze at the splendidly designed arches, the beautiful clock tower, and the ceiling inside. This is also the station to leave from when traveling to Sintra, one of Europe’s loveliest cities. Fun tip: the Estação do Rossio is also one of the three locations where a Starbucks can be found in Lisbon.
São Roque Church
One of the most exquisite decorative examples of Baroque architecture may not be expected from Bohemian and hipster-friendly Bairro Alto, but the São Roque Church is there to surprise. Rather plain and unpretentious on the outside, jaws will drop after stepping over the threshold. The church has one of the most unique architectural histories of any building in the Portuguese capital. It was designed in Rome during the mid 18th century and blessed by the Pope before arriving in Lisbon. The materials used to decorate the internal structures includes natural ivory, the semi-precious stones agate and lapis lazulli, and the precious metals gold and silver. The church was built as a shrine for Saint Rocco, someone who was believed to have healed plague victims in the early 14th century.
Sé de Lisboa
Roman, Gothic, and Baroque architecture all influence the structure known as the Sé de Lisboa, or the Lisbon Cathedral. This is the oldest cathedral in the city, built in the 1100s over the spot that once held a Moorish Mosque. An excavation project towards the back eastern side of the cathedral unearthed some Moorish structures, which can be visited today. The most gaze-worthy parts of the Sé de Lisboa are the towers, rose windows, the altar, and the small side chapels.
Lisbon cityscapes of Alfama always show the National Pantheon, which is rather hard to miss in this part of the city. Also known by its original name, the Church of Santa Engrácia, the original church was built in the 1600s but vandalized in 1630. The restoration project, which took over 300 years to complete, was said to be cursed by the man who was erroneously convicted and murdered for the buildings vandalism. The National Pantheon is centrally located, near the site of the famous Feira da Ladra, and stands out nonetheless. The Baroque architecture pairs with some Greek-inspired decor to make it a unique building in Lisbon.
Igreja de São Vicente de Fora
Sitting slightly uphill from the National Pantheon is the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, yet another magnificent church in this truly Catholic city. It was built in the 17th century and also serves as a monastery and the final resting place to some of Portugal’s monarch families. It was built on the orders of Portugal’s first king and designed to reflect Romanesque architecture. The exterior and interior are both stunning and include the pantheon, Baroque altarpieces, a collection of Baroque azulejo tiles (which may be the largest collection in the world), and a few statues. The side and top exterior of the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora can be easily seen from the Portas do Sol viewpoint, along with the National Pantheon, but nothing beats getting up close and personal.
Campo Pequeno Arena
North from the historical center is the Campo Pequeno Arena, a bull-fighting ring that also houses a shopping center with food courts and one of Lisbon’s most decorative cinemas. During the bull-fighting off-season, the arena itself turns into an event and concert hall, hosting Lisbon’s Chocolate Festival, in addition to other activities. It was built in the late 1800s and inspired by both Madrid’s Bullring and some Moorish designs. Anyone wanting to experience a Portuguese bullfight—which is different from a Spanish bullfight in that the bull is not killed—can buy tickets at the Campo Pequeno website. Otherwise, go for the views, the shopping, a bite to eat, and/or a movie.
Hop on one of Lisbon’s historic trams or city buses to reach Belém, a trip that takes about 30 minutes. Both forms of transportation stop in front of the Jerónimos Monastery, one of the landmarks that has placed Belém on many traveling maps. Once the home of Portuguese monks and shelter to many Portuguese explorers, the Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in the 16th century. The first architect to work on the Monastery was Diogo de Boitaca, the son-in-law of the main architect responsible for the grand Batalha Monastery. One of the first things visitors to the Monastery may notice is its length, which is impressive at least. After entering, the hallways, cathedrals, and courtyard are spellbinding. The Jerónimos Monastery is the final resting place of several important figures in Portugal’s history, including poets Luis de Camões and Fernando Pessoa, and explorer Vasco da Gama.
A 15-20 minute walk from the Jerónimos Monastery will take you to the Belém Tower, another UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the 15th century that’s also a favorite architectural sight. Built as a fort to protect the area’s coastline, the Belém Tower reflects Manueline architectural styles similar to the Monastery and other buildings throughout Portugal. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the winter schedule and closes at 6:30 p.m. while running on the summer schedule. Tickets cost €6, but a combined ticket for both the Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower can be purchased for €12.
Once a power station, the MAAT, or Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology, is another designer’s dream, as implied in the name. Built to look like a wave, the MAAT is housed in an interesting building, to say the least. The stairs on the exterior of the building lead to the roof, which is a unique lookout point over the river. The MAAT is one of the newest additions to hit Lisbon’s architectural scene.
Gare do Oriente
Like the rest of Parque das Nações, the Gare do Oriente or Oriente Train Station was built for the World Exposition ’98 and is now an integral part of life in Lisbon. It is the most modern station in the city, reflecting the styles from the surrounding neighborhood, as well as the primary station when wanting to travel away from Lisbon. The architect in charge of the design was Santiago Calatrava, who implemented the use of glass, steel, and vaulted ceilings to help create the impressive building that stands today.
The Portugal Pavilion, (O Pavilhão de Portugal), is yet another structure at Parque das Nações that’s worth a walk through. It was designed by architect Alvaro Siza Vieira, who was responsible for multiple buildings in the country, including the Museu Serralves in Porto. The idea was to maintain the nautical theme seen throughout Lisbon with the wave-like ceiling, which spans 50 meters by 67 meters, and weighs 1400 tons.
Vasco da Gama Tower
The tower’s claim to fame lies in the fact that it’s the tallest building in Lisbon, reaching 145 meters in height. Inside the Vasco da Gama Tower are elevators that will take visitors to the platform at the top, so they can enjoy the great views that reach across the river and along Parque das Nações. The building attached is the Myriad Hotel, a five-star luxury hotel that lets visitors enjoy more of Lisbon’s most contemporary neighborhood.